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In her doctoral dissertation, Researcher Ulla Ovaska of the Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke) studied the development and future of the conservation of domestic animals of native breeds. Success of the conservation requires both national and international cooperation.

During the past few decades, the number of domestic animals of native breed has decreased globally. Some of the breeds are facing extinction or have already disappeared altogether. This leads to a loss of their genetic resources and at the same time to a decrease in agricultural biodiversity. Particularly modernisation of agriculture has led to indigenous breeds being replaced by animals with better yield.

However, there are several reasons why native breeds should be conserved. They have adapted to difficult climatic conditions and are therefore important when preparing for the environmental challenges of the future, such as climate change. Native breeds are an important part of sustainable agriculture, and they are conserved, among other things, due to reasons pertaining to landscapes and cultural history. The breeds are also useful for rural businesses.

“Agriculture is not just about producing food, and native breeds are a good example of this,” Ulla Ovaska says.

Eastern Finncattle cows in Elonkierto. Photo: Ulla Ramstadius

Case studies in Finland and Siberia

The doctoral dissertation studied the development and future of the conservation of native breeds with two case studies. They are the conservation of Yakutian cattle in the Sakha Republic in Russia and the conservation of native breeds in Finland.

The study shows that in spite of the differences between the two societies, common milestones, grounds and challenges can be identified in the conservation work. In both studied cases, conservation work has followed the international trend and also contributed to it.

“Conservation has been promoted at national and local levels by utilising the opportunities for conservation opened with the international development agreed within the framework of the UN. We speak in favour of conserving the native breeds primarily quoting biological, economic, cultural and other social reasons,” says Ovaska.

The need for conserving native breeds has been widely identified and recognised in society. The challenges are associated with the methods of conservation and their acceptability: who is responsible for conservation and how can it be implemented in a sustainable manner.

Cooperation must be improved to ensure the success of conservation

The breeds can be kept frozen in gene banks, but live specimens are also required. Survival of the native breeds requires common goals and cooperation between different actors and institutions at different levels and in different sectors. Native breeds will only survive, if the farmers want and can breed them.

“Farmers must be heard more in decision-making. We should do away with sanction-based top down control in general and move towards improving mutual cooperation and local orientation,” Ovaska points out.

From the point of conservation, it would be important to identify the common goals and accept the various means for implementing it. The concept of ecosystem services is well suited as a tool of mutual communications, because it allows comprehensive identification of the benefits of native breeds.

Lic.Soc.Sc., M.Sc. Ulla Ovaska is presenting her doctoral dissertation “Genes, gastronomy and gratitude. The development and future of the conservation of native breeds” for public scrutiny at the University of Tampere at noon on Friday, 20 October 2017 (University of Tampere, Pinni A, Paavo Koli Hall, Tampere). Professor Tiina Silvasti (University of Jyväskylä) will act as the examiner and Professor Pekka Jokinen (University of Tampere) as the supervisor. The event will be conducted in Finnish.

The author of the dissertation works as a researcher at the Natural Resources Institute Finland. Field of the dissertation is environmental policy.